By Alyssa Edmunds
A new law just passed in Hawaii that will ban any sunscreen that contains oxybenzone and octinoxate because of the detrimental effects these chemicals have on coral reefs and marine life. As someone who has pale skin, but is also an environmental activist, I find myself conflicted — both excited about what this could do to save the planet and worried about how this will affect people’s chance of getting skin cancer. After reading a Washington Post article entitled “Hawaii Just Banned Your Favorite Sunscreen to Protect its Coral Reefs,” I learned quite a bit about the good and bad that could potentially arise from this new law.
Coral reefs are essential in protecting marine life and aiding human life as well, providing “food, medication and tourism jobs, among other things — at a value of $30 billion to $172 billion per year.” According to the Senate bill (SB 2571) that will effectively ban sunscreens containing these chemicals, oxybenzone and octinoxate kill coral reefs and cause genetic damage to both coral reefs and the marine life that they protect. Therefore, under this ban, we could expect the monetary value coral reefs have to remain, or maybe even increase.
Despite the positive effects this ban would have on coral reefs and marine life, it could increase our chances of getting skin cancer. These chemicals have proven to be effective in protecting the skin from the damaging effects from the sun.
Indeed, the Washington Post article adds: Bayer said in a statement in May that the company intends to comply with the legislation but that “eliminating the use of sunscreen ingredients considered to be safe and effective by the FDA with a long history of use not only restricts consumer choice, but is also at odds with skin cancer prevention efforts. What has been scientifically proven is that exposure to UV radiation from the sun causes skin cancer. And sunscreen is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from UV exposure, in addition to wearing protective clothing, sunglasses and staying in the shade.”
I’m hopeful that environmentalists and sunscreen makers can reach common ground in this tough debate. This bill does not go into effect until 2021, which will hopefully give time to either find another way to protect coral reefs and marine life from harm or find an effective replacement for oxybenzone and octinoxate in sunscreen.
Alyssa Edmunds is Chemical Processing’s social media intern and a student at The Ohio State University. She is studying Actuarial Science. She’s about to embark on a summer vacation to Florida with sunscreen in hand but worries about the impact it will have on the environment.